By Brandon Elrod
ATLANTA—On Tuesday evening, November 8, 2016, Dhati Lewis flipped through election night coverage on television. He couldn’t help but be captivated by the news cycle as the results started pouring in.
Lewis recalls that night in his new book Advocates: The Narrow Path to Racial Reconciliation and remembers a common refrain that moved him deeply: “our country is divided.”
“Christians were saying it. Nonbelievers were saying it. News anchors from every station were saying it,” Lewis writes. “I heard those words ripple through every single channel, and I was grieved to my core.”
What’s more, as a pastor of a diverse congregation in Atlanta called Blueprint Church, Lewis knew that he was going to need to confront those divisions head on in order to shepherd his people well.
The 2016 election revealed divisions in the United States and the American church, Lewis writes. For an African American man with a heart for reconciliation, the eruption that took place that night underscored just how much work needed to be done.
Lewis began by addressing the divisions in his congregation, pausing their current sermon series to focus on the book of Philemon. That became the foundation for Advocates. In order to see tensions heal, Christians need to take on the role of advocates, Lewis argues in the book, who plead for others to be reconciled to Christ and to one another.
“The issue of racial division is close to my heart for a lot of different reasons,” Lewis said in written comments about his reason for writing the book. “I’ve always had the desire to run to the tension with a heart for reconciliation; this book is a manifestation of that practice.”
Lewis became a vice president at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in 2018, leading the Send Network, the ministry that focuses on starting new churches in areas that lack a strong, gospel presence. For years, Lewis has seen the need for reconciliation as a key to planting those new churches, especially in diverse, urban areas where racial tensions tend to be escalated.
“Racial division is a real problem that demands real solutions that can lead to real transformation,” Lewis said. “These divisions that have been caused by racism, classism, sexism and every other ‘ism’ are not new in our time. A lot of the New Testament was written about the same types of divisions that we are facing today.”
Paul wrote the letter to Philemon after the slave Onesimus had run away from Philemon’s household, met Paul in prison and came to know Christ as Lord. As a result, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon and encourages the two to be reconciled as brothers.
The instruction Paul gives, Lewis writes, unveils three key qualities for an advocate—they rely on Christ, run to the tension and respond with dignity
While a Christian advocate will embrace these qualities, the typical, carnal response is to react as an aggravator who instead sows more division because their focus is self-interest, self-preservation or self-vindication rather than genuine reconciliation, Lewis explains in the book.
“When we hold our hearts up to God’s standard, we all fall dramatically short (Rom. 3:23),” Lewis writes. “And that’s the beauty of the gospel. God reconciles even the worst of sinners. So when we engage as advocates, we must come in with an awareness of our own story, our own sin and our own bias.”
The easiest thing for any two groups who are divided over an issue to do is to blame those on the other side for the discord. Through his writing, Lewis shows how that realization is not an easy one for any person or group to process. The balance of who’s right and who’s wrong is not always equal, but Christians realize each person shares the responsibility to pursue reconciliation together.
“For us to become advocates, we must do the hard work of facing anything that defines us that is divisive and not of Christ,” Lewis writes, “and be willing to surrender that in place of our identity as children of God and brothers and sisters to one another.”
Advocates can be purchased here through LifeWay.com.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.
A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.
Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.
“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.
“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.
The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.
Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.
A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.
SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.
“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”
The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.
Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.
“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,
Published June 27, 2019